Let Us Sing of Greater Things by Rich Lowry provides a thumbnail sketch of the backstory.
A native German who lived in London, G.F. Handel was extraordinarily prolific, composing roughly 40 operas and 30 oratorios. His towering status isn’t in question. Beethoven, born nearly a hundred years later, deemed him “the master of us all.”
Although the “Messiah” is invariably called “Handel’s Messiah,” it was a collaboration. The librettist Charles Jennens, a devout Christian, provided the composer with a “scriptural collection,” the Biblical quotations that make up the text.
Jennens wrote a friend that he hoped Handel “will lay out his whole genius and skill upon it, that the composition may excel all his former compositions, as the subject excels every other subject. The subject is Messiah.”
He needn’t have worried. Handel completed a draft score in three weeks in the summer of 1741. The legend says that while composing the famous “Hallelujah” chorus, he had a vision of “the great God himself.” There is no doubt that artist and subject matter came together in one of the most inspired episodes in the history of Western creativity.
On the title page of his “Messiah” word book, Charles Jennens quoted Virgil, “majora canamus,” or let us sing of greater things.